Convention Review: Auto Assembly 2015, Part Three

This is the third and final part of our jointly-penned ‘AddAltMode does Auto Assembly’ feature. This time starring Michael Bay movie replica vehicles, 3rd Party toys, James Horan and Peter Spellos, and an emotional convention round up.

Movie replica Optimus Prime truck

Movie replica Optimus Prime truck

Sunday

R: So, convention day 3 dawned far too quickly, and since this was the last day of the final AA there  was a whiff of sadness in the air, despite everyone’s best efforts to ignore it. I’m sure that in time another TF convention will rise to take this one’s place (”One shall stand, one shall fall”) but there was an inevitable sense of a good thing coming to an end, and for us as AA first and last timers there was a bit of regret that we’d missed out on so much in the past.  But fortunately Sunday dawned with so much still to see and do that there was no time be maudlin.

The Sunday was also our wedding anniversary and spending it at Auto Assembly was a geekily wonderful way to celebrate. It epitomises a lot of things about our marriage. We’ve been married 7 years, which apparently made this our “wool” anniversary, although given the circumstances we decided to unofficially dub it our “plastic” anniversary instead. Much more fitting!

Movie replicas

R:  As we were ready for some fresh air (could be something to do with the “Blurr’d Vision” and “Rodimus Star”cocktails we’d sampled the night before), our first stop was outside to see the replica movie cars. Now neither of us are particular fans of the live action films: the first one was enjoyable enough, the 2nd and 3rd were dire and we refuse even to watch the last Bay effort, but that doesn’t negate the fact that some of the cars to appear in the Bayverse are pretty sweet and it’s hard not to feel impressed when coming to face to face with a vehicle as magnificent as the Optimus Prime replica that was parked outside the Hilton.  As well as the aforementioned Prime, the folks at Transformers Car Hire had brought along two Bumblebees (battered Bee and a pimped-up shiny Bee) and a Barricade (looking rather outnumbered by all the Autobots around him). It was fun to have a look at them all, as well as getting the chance to climb into Optimus’ cab.

B: This is probably some sort of heresy, but I prefer the dirty, worn look of the ’76 Camaro Bumblebee to the slick look. A robot who wants to keep a low profile can do better as a car that doesn’t attract attention.

Shiny Bee

2009 Concept Camaro Bee

Battered Bee

1976 Camaro Bee

You're outnumbered, 'con!

Barricade

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Optimus Prime movie replica truck

Optimus Prime movie replica truck

DSC02192

Shiny!

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All the Autobrands kind of negate the in disguise part

Here’s a rare “alt mode” (i.e. non cosplay) photo of R. Yes she did blasphemously sit in OP’s cab while wearing a Decepticon shirt.

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No idea most of the levers or dials do, so it’s a good job OP can drive himself

Sunday Panels

B: The third party panel was as much power-point presentation as panel: the two panellists had been in contact with a number of third-party companies and were presenting images of those companies forthcoming wares. The two presenters (Ceno Kibble, and a dude whose name I didn’t catch) discussed each image, and shared some boisterous banter. We moved seats mid presentation, because the guy sat behind us was loudly blathering on about his exercise routine. FFS, dude, there’s a bar with umpteen seats, if you’re sitting at a panel shut up so people can (unless the presenter asks for questions, obv). You’ve earned the AddAltMode special prize for being the only dickhead at AA.

You know who you are.

Thanks to that guy, I missed the name of one of the presenters.

For those who don’t know, third party toys are original designs based on appropriated characters — for example, Mastermind Creations‘s Azalea is a pink-and-white feminine-looking robot with head details that resemble a tight helmet, and a pair over raised “backpacks” over her shoulders, who converts into a futuristic car. It’s pretty clear that Azalea is inspired by G1 Arcee, but the Azalea figure actually preceded the Generations Arcee that we all waited so long to get:

Look out, Arcee, someone's biting your style.

Generations Arcee on the left, and MMC’s Azalea on the right.

What differentiates “Third-Party Products” from “Knock-Offs” is that whilst knock-offs are cheaply made imitations designed to be passed off as the original product whose designs they are stolen from, Third Party toys are “homages” to Hasbro-owned characters — no pretence is made that the toy is an official Hasbro product, but equally no pretence is made as to the inspiration for the design.  It seems that whilst Hasbro has legally squished a number of knock-off producers, the third parties are left well alone provided they don’t sell their products under false pretences, and they don’t hurt Hasbro’s bottom line. By making toys focussing on characters that Hasbro aren’t doing anything with, or obscure characters of interest only to the most hardcore collectors, third party companies stay out of the line of fire but still release some interesting products. It’s worth noting that, because only small batches of toys are made from each mold, third party toys are often way more expensive than Hasbro’s, since the economies of scale that large manufacturers benefit from aren’t a factor.

R: It was interesting to see all the projects of this nature that are being worked on. The third party world is a real hub of creativity, and judging by the third party figures that B picked up during the convention (KFC’s Perceptor Mugan Scope 2, Fansproject’s Skrapnel Thundershred and Fansproject’s Sludge Columpio) there are some really nice figures being made too. A lot of the preview pictures from the panel showed masterpiece sized homages to characters who aren’t currently scheduled to get an official toy in that scale, and this seems to be where the money is. It was nice to see these, but I think the third party world is most exciting when it can provide figures of more obscure characters who wouldn’t otherwise get a toy, for instance the not-DJD figures by MMC. Although understandably the market for these is smaller, that’s why it’s really important to support Kickstarter campaigns if there’s a chance a comics only character you like might get made.

B: The Masterpiece-scale toys of G1 characters who aren’t yet in Hasbro’s Masterpiece line fall flat for me. the more interesting stuff is the stuff Hasbro aren’t doing: MMC’s Not-DJD are a perfect example. Also, OMG that Tarn Kultur and that Impactor Spartan!

SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY!

Actually you don’t have to shut up. Just that other guy.

B: It was actually pretty funny when they put up the slide of MMC’s upcoming “Spartan” – a delighted fan in the audience cried out “Impactor!”, and the presenter responded with “…is a trademarked Hasbro character. This toy’s name is Spartan.”

R: But of all the third party projects that were displayed during the panel the most exciting had to be the female Dinobot Velociraptor. She looked awesome and I am 100% up for a lady Dinobot. The world needs more lady dinobots.

Slide from the 3rd Party panel. Female velociraptor figure by Fans Project Lost Exo-Realm

Slide from the 3rd Party panel. Female raptor figure by Fans Project’s Lost Exo-Realm line

B: The Lost Exo Realm Not-Dinobots (of which this dromeosaur-lady is one) are, in my opinion, the nicest of the many, many third-party Dinobot homages that have appeared since the latest Bayformers movie. Expect a review of Columpio, the group’s Sludge-y sauropod, sometime soon. I expect that Lady-raptor will sell like hotcakes. I hope I can find one reasonably priced.

R: The second panel of the day was the Japanese Artists panel, featuring the very talented Kei Zama (Golby2), Andrew Hall and Andrew Griffith. I enjoyed the focus on Transformers in Japan that ran throughout the convention this year. It was intriguing to learn how the reception of the franchise differs in Japan. Andrew Hall explained that while monsters are huge in Japan, Decepticons tend to be less popular there than Autobots because there’s a lot of emphasis on toy lines providing aspirational role models, whereas in the West a lot of us (my Decepticon-fangirl self included) like nothing better than a despicable dose of villainy.

B: In the Japanese cultural milieu, there doesn’t seem to be the distrust of technology that exists in the West: science isn’t seen as a Faustian pact, and Futurism is more important than Frankenstein. It makes more sense for the bad guys to be monsters, and the more “technological” vehicle-transformers to be the “good guys”.

Japanese artists panel

Japanese artists panel

DSC02214

R: It was great to get a peek at Kei Zama’s heavily Dredd influenced forthcoming IDW cover. Although sadly I didn’t get quite as much out of this panel as I’d have liked to. With Kei speaking though an interpreter and the panel covering some quite in-depth themes you really had to concentrate, which wasn’t always easy given how noisy the room was. Generally, I loved the way the convention was set up with all the dealers and artists in the same big room as the panels. It meant you could drop in and out of the talks with ease and that the people browsing the stalls or queuing to meet the guests didn’t miss out on the talks completely. However, the downside of this was that it could be quite difficult to hear the panels, especially if you weren’t sat near the front.

B: Kei Zama’s work is gorgeous.  I loved her Seventh Son of A Seventh Son cover homage spoof with Rodimus as Eddy. The 2000AD influence is immediately apparent on her MTMTE cover. The colourist Josh Burcham must have also picked up on that, because his coloured version of the cover intensifies that direction.

R: After the Japanese artists panel I nipped back to our room to transform into Slipstream for an hour or so. I’m glad I took the opportunity to do so as it was great fun to interact with the attendees and other cosplayers in slightly more relaxed circumstances than existed during the competition. Although posing for so many pictures meant I didn’t manage to catch quite all of James Horan’s Guest of Honour panel.

James Horan

James onstage as part of the closing ceremony

James onstage as part of the closing ceremony

B: James Horan’s panel was fun. I missed the start because I was helping R don her cosplay, and when we got to the convention hall, he was starting to take questions.

R: James was a great sport, and despite his wealth of experience in the acting world (I hadn’t realised how much Star Trek he’d done previously) he had a really easy, down-to-earth manner that was very appealing. The funniest moment I caught during his panel was when someone asked him one of those classic convention questions: “who’d win in a fight between Wheeljack and Drift?” James admitted that he wasn’t familiar with a lot of characters outside of Transformers Prime, but that he obviously thought Wheeljack would win. Then the awesome Drift cosplayer stepped forward and offered him a sword so the two could settle it there and then – fantastic moment!

I know who'd win in a fight between Drift and Slipstream (it isn't Slipstream)

I know who’d win in a fight between Drift and Slipstream (spoiler: it isn’t Slipstream)

Peter Spellos

R: While the presence of Sumalee Montano and James Horan had been announced at the previous year’s AA, Peter Spellos – the voice of Sky-Byte – was a last minute addition to the 2015 line up. This  is a testament to just what a legendary figure and inspiring guest he is, since he had attended the 2014 AA and was so well-received that fans actually launched a campaign to fund his return. Having now met him (he kissed my hand) I can understand why. He is an incredibly funny, warm and inspiring gentleman. For me, his character Sky-Byte, the Predacon robot shark who is also a wannabe poet and nowhere near as evil as he’s meant to be, is really the one who elevates Robots in Disguise 2001 and makes it an enjoyable show. It was fun to hear Peter talk about the role and how the writers really responded to his energy making Sky-Byte weirder and more wonderful as the series progressed.

DSC02239

A Sky-Byte cosplayer enjoying Peter Spellos’ panel

B: Peter Spellos amazed me: his endless conviviality, his enthusiasm for… everything… and his powerful sense of humour were just completely inspiring. It’s no wonder that those who had seen him at AA last year paid for him to come again. His contribution to the English-language dub of Robots In Disguise (2001) is the best part of the show: the whole thing falls flat without the comic relief, and Sky-Byte is by far the funniest character — largely due to the quality of Spellos’ voice acting.

Of course, he hasn’t just voice-acted in his career, and it was fascinating to hear him tell stories of the many films and productions of which he has been part.

R: I also hadn’t previously placed him as the voice of the computer Gilliam in Outlaw Star. That was an anime series we both enjoyed watching a few years back so it was cool to make that connection.

Peter has lived a really full life and was such an inspiring speaker. I was so impressed by how he remembered the names of so many of the fans he’d met during the convention and indeed by his attitude in general. He talked a lot about never being embarrassed to be yourself and – as with Sumalee’s comments about following your heart – it’s advice that could feel clichéd if it weren’t presented by someone who clearly 100% believes in and practices what they preach, in which case it just becomes motivational. Indeed, I think I need to practice being a bit more Peter Spellos. I think I did pretty well at instigating conversations and meeting people while at AA, but I do get quite anxious doing this, there’s always that worry that I’m not cool enough and that people will judge me and so I think that still held me back a little. Hopefully I will get better with each event I go to. Be More Shark.

Closing ceremony

R: All good things eventually come to an end and so too did Auto Assembly. The closing ceremony was intense and rather emotional since it marked not only the end of this convention but the end of 15 years worth of AA gatherings. The closing ceremony was a nice touch, and I appreciated the fact that all the guests were called to the stage so that we could thank them one last time. It was also a chance to applaud the AA convention crew and volunteers and I really am grateful for all they did to make everything run so smoothly. David Wallis in particular deserves credit for hosting all the panels and Q&A sessions. He did such a great job; it’s really an art to get the most out of such a diverse array of guests: the voice actors had plenty to say and are used to performing; with them David managed to keep the questions flowing and ensure that as many people as possible got the chance to speak to them without ever seeming like he was interrupting or cutting off their wonderful anecdotes. Meanwhile he had to coax and prompt some of the less extroverted artists to get them to open up, and he really performed both roles admirably. Thank you David!

B: I could applaud ’til my hands hurt and it wouldn’t be enough.

R: We didn’t just need the tissues because AA was winding down. There was another very emotional moment, which was when Jason Cardy took the mic during the artists thank you session and used the opportunity to propose to his long term girlfriend, fellow artist Kat Nicholson. It was very cheesy: a full Transformers-themed proposal complete with the requisite Bah-weep-Graaaaagnah wheep ni ni bongs, but it was a wonderful moment which didn’t leave too many dry eyes in the house. Huge congratulations to both Kat and Jason. ❤ ❤ ❤

Sumalee closing address (note a teary Kat Nicholson on the right)

Sumalee closing address (note a teary Kat Nicholson on the right)

B: I had more Blurr’d Vision at this moment than I did in Swerve’s Cocktail bar the previous night. These two were so sweet. Congratulations to them both.

R: AA ended with a big group hug for all the guests onstage, and really I think there was so much love bubbling away at this convention, for the franchise, the guests, the toys, the cosplay, the other attendees, that it isn’t unfitting to describe Auto Assembly as a big group hug of a convention.

Group hug!

Group hug!

Summing up

R: I had a wonderful time and if 2015 hadn’t been the last AA then without hesitation I would now  be recommending it to all of you and booking up for next year. As it is, I hope another similar event will come along to fill the void. The AA staff and crew talked a lot about how the people are the heart of Auto Assembly and how we don’t need a formal convention to continue on as a big Transformers family. This is a nice sentiment and there’s a lot of truth in it. There’s going to be an AA YouTube channel launching soon, which is cool. I’m a big believer in the unifying power of the web, and of social media. I wouldn’t put so many hours into this blog otherwise. I would like to keep in touch with the Transformers people I met at AA (if you’ve found this blog as a result of that hello and welcome, do please say hi!) But at the same time, conventions offer a kind of complete escapism and immersion that isn’t always possible otherwise. I know how hard it is just to try to find time get together with more than a couple of my local friends at any one time: work and family and other commitments always seem to get in the way. So it would be nice to have a special event in the calendar to plan for and look forward to in the way that I’d been anticipating Auto Assembly since September last year. Hopefully this will happen in time.

One thing’s for sure, whatever the future holds we’ll both always be glad to have been a part of the final Auto Assembly. Til All Are One!

A moment of calm. I'd wager we weren't the only ones who sought a few quiet minutes in the scenic grounds of the Hilton after the intensity of the closing ceremony

A moment of calm. I’d wager we weren’t the only ones who sought a few quiet minutes in the scenic grounds of the Hilton after the intensity of the closing ceremony

Leaving Cybertron-in-Birmingham for Earth has been a bit of a jolt after the highs of the weekend. It’s been nice to relive it all writing up the event for this blog, so we hope you’ve enjoyed reading our thoughts on the convention.  And we do now have a mountain of plastic that needs reviewing, so expect a few toy features popping up here in the coming weeks.

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2 thoughts on “Convention Review: Auto Assembly 2015, Part Three

    • It was great, I’m sure there will be something to replace it. I’ve heard a few rumours already but I know that an event like this must take a colossal amount of organising so will wait and see what the future now holds.

      Yeah, there’s always someone like that at every event. I guess it’s a testament to the awesomeness of AA that we did only encounter the one!

      Liked by 1 person

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